It seems to me with a lot of this talk about the “crisis in the humanities” (Fish’s recent defense of the Humanities on the NY Times blog, issue 36.1 of New Literary History, and more) tends to not even discuss the material and economic grounding of such a discussion. Though I think that, if I remember correctly, Geoffrey Galt Harpham’s discussion in New Literary History gets at it because he discusses how humanities scholars need to talk to the public. The reason for talking to publics, though while having real ethical purposes (acting as public intellectuals, helping develop counterpublic arenas), also has real material and economic grounding for us in the humanities: justification for funding.
What I am getting at is the material situation of our work. I share an office (which I think is great, because it’s less isolating), but it can be rather crowded, especially if both of us are talking with students. Additionally, the heater is so out-dated that the room is always either too hot or too cold. Couple this with the fact that the heater sometimes leaks condensation, so I have to watch where I sit things if I put them on the floor. Compound that with the fact that the heat is turned off over the weekend, which means that it’s too cold in my office to work there over the weekend.
And then there is one of the classrooms in our building, which had a leak or something over break and is now undergoing a major overhaul, leaving the room useless for the whole quarter. Today, MLK day, construction workers are re-modeling the room, which a) makes it too loud in here to get a lot done in my office, and b) reveals a clear distinction between classes in regards to labor, and who has the privilege to celebrate and honor diversity and social change: while academic labor gets the day off, physical labor continues on campus. Not that I get the day off; I’ll probably be putting in a near-full day grading.
And the building for English is in better shape than other buildings on campus, some of which have scaffolding to prevent the bricks from falling off and injuring passersby.
And let’s not forget adjunct pay.
And while this is a litany of complaints, I don’t mean to paint an image of abjection. I am really quite pleased with my situation as an instructor, and I love the department I’m in and the people and students I work with.